Grocery rebranding welcomes Amazon

Recently, I wrote in Supermarket News that grocery stores have landed in a trap. It’s a trap of their own making, by having grocery rebranding messages focused on price and fresh food. Everyone uses those same messages and they are just definitions of a grocery store. You have low prices and fresh food.

Now comes news of a new competitor that actually responds quickly to change: Amazon.

The online retail giant announced that it will open 20 brick and mortar grocery stores over the next few years, with the stated goal of swarming the country with up to 2,000 eventually. That’s four times more than Walmart owns now.

Grocery rebranding
Grocery rebranding has been terrible. Now comes worse news for grocery chains: Amazon.

Grocery stores such as Kroger, Albertson’s and others have reason to be worried. Walmart owns low price. The local chains own fresh (although all grocery stores should own it). And now Amazon will own new and exclusivity.

Amazon will have true grocery stores, where you push a cart (or a buggy, as we say in the South) and shop aisle by aisle. But it will also have a click and collect drive-up component in which shoppers shop online and pick up at the store.

Now, many groceries offer that, so that part won’t be all that different. Although, it should be noted, that Amazon’s brand gives it greater permission to do it.

Amazon is better at grocery rebranding.

No, the real Amazon advantage is that it will know its customers. It already has a handful of Amazon Fresh customers who pay $15 monthly fee. More importantly, it has millions of Amazon Prime customers, meaning that Amazon could make its grocery stores exclusive to those members.

There are two advantages to that approach. One, we humans believe that exclusivity means better quality. The clubs we can’t get into are the ones we want to enter the most. (Or, as Groucho Marx said, he wouldn’t want to be a member of any club that accepted him as a member.)

Secondly, Amazon has more data on its customers than probably just about any company in the country (maybe the world), with the possible exception of Google and Apple. That means Amazon can tailor its stores to its specific customers.

Grocery rebranding has been a wasteland for chains, both regionally and nationally. If there is more than one grocery store in your area (and that’s true for most Americans), you end up buying at the store that’s most convenient on the way home. Or you buy on price (Walmart). Or you have a tiered system in which you buy basic supplies at the cheapest store and produce & meats at a more high-end store, like Fresh Market.

Amazon entering the market, though, tells grocery stores that they better get serious about grocery rebranding or they are going to be looking from the outside at more successful efforts that respond to change.

How grocery chains can beat Walmart

The bad news for grocery chains is that they have become a cauldron of consolidation. The past few years have seen major grocery chains buying smaller competitors to forestall the Walmart takeover of the industry.

Kroger’s buys Harris Teeter and Roundy’s. Albertson’s buys Safeway and Haggen. ACME Markets, a subsidiary of Albertson’s, buys a bankrupt A&P. On and on.

Grocery chainsThe consolidations hints at several trends for the grocery industry, even if the largest grocery chains (such as Kroger, Publix and Albertson’s) are seeing this as way to fight the retail behemoths of Walmart, Target, Costco and others. By increasing distribution, those chains are hoping to out-large those big boxes so they can overtake market leadership.

For the smaller and regional groceries, the consolidation spells doom. Soon, they will either be put out of business or forced to accept an offer from the large chains.

For all those groceries, this is not a good trend. Walmart isn’t going anywhere. It is already the market leader and some reports say more than half of its earnings come from grocery. It has even been able to win with its private label brand, Great Value, leading the way. If anything, Walmart will increase its emphasis on grocery.

So what are grocers to do?

Leveraging the trends

Before we answer that question, let’s take a step back. There are two trends flowing through the industry that are diametrically opposed to each other, if you think about it. On one hand, groceries have often captured market share through sales, low prices and couponing. The weekly newspaper circular still exists today even though newspapers themselves are not as relevant as they once were. (That’s why apps are becoming the couponing system of choice today.)

The problem is that, now that Walmart has entered the fray, that tactic is not as effective. Walmart’s brand, encapsulated in its theme of “Save Money. Live Better,” is so embedded in the minds of consumers that consumers who shop on price shop there.

Walmart beat grocers at the price game because low prices were never part of their brands. They were only marketing messages while Walmart means low prices.

In our corner of the world in North Carolina, a once-thriving Food Lion was doomed the instant the nearby Walmart added a grocery. It closed months later and has sat empty ever since.

Grocery chainsThen there are the shifting eating trends. Consumers want healthier options, which have led most groceries to increase their organic offerings. Whole Foods is the organic food leader, but it will never be the market leader because organic foods are expensive. It remains only part of the equation.

So how do you approach the changing food environment (with its higher prices) with a large segment of shoppers buying based on price?

Grocery chains scouting themselves

Grocery shoppers have preferences but a majority of them will buy groceries from more than one place. You can buy the basics at Walmart (where price supersedes quality), a prime choice of meat at Fresh Market and have the occasional trip to Harris Teeter or Kroger on the way home.

What grocers have struggled with is finding their positions in the market. Kroger has used a theme of “Fresh Food, Low Prices.” How is that different than Walmart? When consumers are faced with all things being equal, they will choose the market leader. (Therefore, Kroger’s theme only works if there’s not a Walmart nearby.)

Couple the Walmart copycatting with other unemotional messages, and preference ends up depending on location. Hence, the number of mergers and acquisitions.

The messages have become throwaways

Even more, those messages are just used as just that. Messages. They are not firmly affixed to the brand the way Walmart has affixed its theme to the brand. When that happens, even if the message is differentiating (and most are not), they are not believed because they just sound like marketing.

Albertson’s has used “You’re in for something fresh,” which sounds like it was written by an ad agency and does nothing to distinguish the chain from the competition.

Grocery chainsTo compete with Walmart, those chains and others must be truly different and better. Copying Walmart’s ownership of low prices is simply a loser’s game. Trying to build your brand (or advertising campaign) on fresh food just defines you as a grocery store.

Instead, grocery chains must define who their customers are when they use your brand. That’s how preference is created. If your brand is a true reflection of the target audience, then consumers will be incapable of choosing anyone else because it would be going against their own emotional natures.

Apple users Think Different. Nike users Just Do It. What do your customers do?

By Tom Dougherty

Stealing Share President and CEO

Originally published by Supermarket News.

Honey Nut Cheerios Healthy Hearts

Honey Nut Cheerios hits a home run

Honey Nut CheeriosHoney Nut Cheerios is one of General Mill’s flagship brands. The cereal market is in a death spiral (read our in-depth market study on the cereal and breakfast category here) as tastes and consumer patterns change. Breakfast cereal used to be the staple food at breakfast tables across the globe but times have changed.

Honey Nut CheeriosThe venerable brands of my youth (Kellogg’s Raisin Bran, Kellogg’s Cornflakes, Post Raisin Bran, Wheaties and even Cheerios) are hard at work trying to expand the market.

Time was all of the advertising dollars was directed at kids. Even Wheaties (the breakfast of champions) was targeted at getting kids to prefer the cereal over other choices. Today, more and more brands are simply trying to expand the traditional audience by including adults in the advertising too. Most to little effect.

The reason for the failure is that brand permission does not come by simply featuring the target audience in the communication. You need to have the target audience say to themselves, “I want to be that.”

Enter Honey Nut Cheerios

The Cheerios parent brand has been talking heart healthy for many years now. There seems to be no dissenting voices in science that there are REAL benefits to oats (oat bran in particular) in the health and vitality of the human heart. But the message of heart healthy has done very little to expand the category and, while one of the more successful rebrands in the cereal market, Cheerios has continued to disappoint despite outperforming many others in the category.

But the Healthy Hearts Stay Young campaign may be a real game changer.

The commercial has the mandatory adult and child but the similarity ends here. The spots are an exuberant and charming combination of energy and brand without the usual feature of focusing only on the product. The spots are mesmerizing and are so well produced that you find yourself stopping on the commercial when channel surfing. The main spot is THAT good. The supporting spots are less powerful because it is the adult in the main commercial that is most appealing.

Stop the other branded slop.

General Mills Logo Honey Nut CheeriosThis campaign truly builds brand preference. I want to be THAT and I’m sure I am not alone. The precocious child is overshadowed by the talented adult and it is her movement and agility that holds sway in the spot. I simply can’t take my eyes off her and even see the little girl as a distraction. Despite the lack of traditional brand identification, I remembered this commercial as being all about Honey Nut Cheerios. It worked.

Scrap the silly honey bee, General Mills. He (or she) may be cute but the commercials are all about YOU and the natural ingredients. You took the bold step of making your prospects feel that they want to be part of the club and we don’t need any rational reasons why your honey came from bees. To my knowledge, all honey comes from bees.

A few words on Kellogg’s

Walmart to use Uber so you live better

Leave it to Walmart to be on the forefront of retail technology. While the retail giant hasn’t always been on top of things (VUDU came along years after Netflix owned the streaming video market), it remains the one other retailers follow.

I’ve mentioned many times before that the problem with Walmart’s competition is that the Targets and Kmarts of the world simply copy what Walmart is doing and hope it will help sales. However, that just makes things equal. And, with all things being equal, the market leader wins.

Walmart will offer more than just curbside service. It will bring your groceries to your door.

Now comes word that Walmart is experimenting with an online shopping service that brings your goods right to your door. Here’s how it works: You order your goods (including groceries) online. An associate gathers up your order then calls Uber or Lyft to deliver it to your door.

Obviously, there’s a fee involved, but it should be enormously easy for the shopper. Walmart pays the driver and you just pay the total (plus fee) online. What could be simpler than that?

The idea of online shopping at grocery stores is not necessarily new. Target has been experimenting with what it calls Curbside and Kroger is working on a ClickList service. The problem with those programs is that customers pick their goods up at the store. They are not delivered.

Even my local Harris Teeter does that.

Why Walmart will make this a success.

Experts in retail have been predicting that online shopping for grocery stores is going to happen regardless, but note that chains have had a hard time making any money from it. Especially when their main brand promise is price. (That is, they must be careful that the service is not too expensive.) In addition, big box stores like Target feed off the browsing component to their sales because the stores themselves are so large. Online shopping, by definition, doesn’t offer that kind of distraction as well.

Walmart, however, will make this a success because it has a delivery component (therefore, challenging Amazon, even if just a little bit) and its brand says: Save money. Live better.

It’s the second line – Live better – that’s the key to giving it permission to use Uber and Lyft drivers. If all the competition can offer is a curbside service and a brand promise that only copies the market leader, then Walmart will continue to win.

The Bayer Monsanto merger needs your attention

The world of crop protection, if you’re not aware, is both important and cutthroat. And it’s something of which we should all pay attention.

There are a handful of main competitors who are either constantly battling the EPA or fighting environmentalists along side the regulatory agency, depending on your bent.

Bayer Monsanto
Growing crops is about to get a whole lot more expensive.

It’s also a changing industry. The main players, such as Monsanto, Syngenta and Bayer, have long been under fire because their lead products were pesticides. Those chemicals raised the hackles of environmental groups and have spawned thousands (if not millions) of papers, editorials and books (started by Rachel Carson’s seminal book, Silent Spring.)

Today, however, those manufacturers are increasing their investment in seeds, which are genetically modified to increase crop growth and stave off infection from pests and disease.

That is why Bayer is offering $62 billion for Monsanto, the largest seed producer in the US, for a Bayer Monsanto merger I can see happening.

The pitfalls of the Bayer Monsanto merger to you.

There are positive and negative outcomes of this proposed merger, starting with the benefit the companies themselves would receive. The battlefield now is over combined resources, especially worldwide, to increase research and development, and also to enter into developing markets.

The power of the seed market is that the next worldwide shortage is promising to be food. The population of the Earth is increasing but the amount of farmland is not. The only way to meet the world’s future needs is to make crops more robust and stir up agricultural production in those developing countries.

Leaving aside the potential negative effect of genetically modified seeds, the effect on the farmer – and the US economy – is potentially deadly. Mergers are becoming the norm in crop protection, with Dow and DuPont joining forces last year and rumors of Chinese companies interested in Syngenta still circulating.

Mergers mean less competition and less competition means higher prices.

Keeping track of the mergers in crop protection is not usually top of mind for consumers but they are important developments to notice. Seeds are seen as a healthier alternative to pesticides, but more research to needs to be done.

But sticker shock will soon be coming to your nearby grocery store. In the US, we take for granted what is available and what food costs. However, a Bayer Monsanto merger will change all that. Prepare to spend more of your dollar at the grocery store.